Sept. 3, 2002
Planting the seed
Soul music has its next big you-know-what in Cody ChesnuTT, but is he the real deal?
By Barry Schwartz
Senior staff writer

There's life beyond hip-hop and there's life beyond rock.

Because just when you think music has creatively run itself dry, artists reach deep into the rich musical history and create a new and refreshing style. Just as hip-hop sprang from funk, soul and jazz and rock 'n' roll sprang (read stole) from the blues, artists like Beck and D'Angelo find ways to filter influences and create something fresh - the next style. Add another name to that list.

The tale of this mysterious artist, whose music has only been heard by a select few, is straight redemption. Slapping non-believers in the face like the pimp his music is often spoken through and forcing cats to check themselves on their faulty preconceived perceptions like the deeply spiritual individual you hear on his record's most soulful moments.

With wide open ears and a soft, smoky voice, Los Angeles' enigmatic Cody ChesnuTT has quietly lit a fuse with his forthcoming, independently released double album - The Headphone Masterpiece - an eclectic mix of seemingly effortless soul music delivered in its rawest form.

"I don't believe in categorization," said ChesnuTT. "I do soul music, and any music where people put their soul into it and you can feel it, you can hear it, that's soul music. I look to the songcraft of Motown, The Beatles, Sam Cooke, Elton John and Bernard Taupin. One of my main influences is Nirvana. Kurt Cobain had soul. You can feel it."

So forget all this neo-alterna-soul garbage. Because on the real, Cody ChesnuTT's brand of psychedelic funk-soul-hip-hop-brit-pop-blues-folk is straight rock 'n' roll, the way it is meant to be played - with style and passion.

ChesnuTT is foremost among a host of black artists pumping some soul-sensibility back into the dying genre of rock music. But as Mos Def said, "Elvis Presley ain't got no soul, Little Richard is Rock and Roll, You may dig on the Rolling Stones but they didn't come up with that shit on their own."

A black man playing guitar shouldn't come as any surprise given the rich African-American influence in the blues and rock 'n' roll, but ChesnuTT is still seen as an anomaly in the game. Black men should be rapping, white dudes should be rocking, so anything attempting to blur these absurd boundaries has no place. But ChesnuTT is set on finding his own niche, not fitting into already established categories.

"When you have something burning inside you," said ChesnuTT, "you gotta put it out there as soon as you can. You can't say, "Oh I'm gonna do say this two or three albums down the line.' If something is burning inside you right now it's burning inside you for a reason."

It was with this fearlessless that Cody ChesnuTT created The Headphone Masterpiece. Ranging from the haunting blaxploitation theme music of "Serve This Royalty," to the up-tempo and catchyas all hell of "Look Good in Leather," the Dylan-esque folk of "My Women, My Guitars." ChesnuTT's isn't a groundbreaking sound by any means (the headphone experience aside), but it is surely sorely missed in this landscape of nu-metal and bubblegum-pop.

Some listeners may see the record as a revolutionary work of art, both for its sonic ambition (considering the venue for its gestation - ChesnuTT recorded all 36 songs alone in his bedroom with a four-track recorder, a guitar, organ, drum machine and a pair of SONY V7506 headphones) and its boldness to ironically cross racial boundaries. Cody ChesnuTT is more than the next big thing, he's the Messiah.

Or perhaps The Headphone Masterpiece is simply a piece of creative masturbation, nothing more than an overly ambitious 4-track recording by some obscure has-been people have come to enjoy simply because D'Angelo (get off your ass already) is nowhere to be found. But ChesnuTT is hardly concerned with the hype that surrounds him or people's misconceptions of what to expect.

"What does it mean to you?" ChesnuTT asks. "To me, The Headphone Masterpiece is atestimony of faith. God has blessed me with this talent. But it's not importantwhat I want you to take away from my record, it's what you take away."

With all the hype currently surrounding ChesnuTT, a result of unanimously positive reactions The Headphone Masterpiece has received from industry insiders and fellow musicians, record labels are salivating over the propect of signing the word-of-mouth king. But ChesnuTT has no interest in signing with a major label, most of which insist he re-record the album in a fancy studio with a live band.

"To me music is about capturing the moment, that inspiration," said ChesnuTT. "To re-record The Headphone Masterpiece would be artificial. I'm not interested in that. Record companies don't know shit and I don't need a bullshit A&R guy. I'm not interested."

ChesnuTT did, however, re-record his stand-out track "The Seed," with the legendary Roots crew for the hip-hop collective's forthcoming album Phrenology. ChesnuTT raved about the collaboration.

"They were the only people I would make the exception to re-record any of my music for," said ChesnuTT. "It was all respect and sharing ideas. It was just spectacular working with them."

It seems nothing can stand in Cody ChesnuTT's way to mainstream success or at the very least an underground icon, but he sees his record as more of a jumping off point for other artists than a platform for his own success.

"Nothing I've done hasn't been done," ChesnuTTadmits. "Kids are making music in their bedrooms everywhere all the time. I'm excited to see what will happen two or three years down the line, when all these ideas are being shared. If The Headphone Masterpiece plants the seed for that, then I would be very happy."

  • source:, accessed April 10th, 2003

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